Cleary steers Google away from £3bn EU fine

Google’s long-standing competition adviser Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has helped the search giant avoid a fine of up to £3bn from the EU’s Competition Commission.

The European Commission yesterday announced an agreement with Google in order to close a three-year anti-trust probe into the business. The EU investigation was centred on whether Google had abused its position in the European search market.

”Google has now accepted to guarantee that whenever it promotes its own specialised search services on its web page (e.g. for products, hotels, restaurants), the services of three rivals, selected through an objective method, will also be displayed in a way that is clearly visible to users and comparable to the way in which Google displays its own services,” reads the proposal.

The settlement means the search giant has escaped a longer antitrust procedure which could have landed it with a fine of £3bn.

Cleary’s London-based competition partner Maurits Dolmans, aided by Brussels-based Thomas Graf, advised longstanding client Google. Dolmans previously advised Google on its $12.5bn (£7.7bn) acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2011(15 August 2011), following the search engine’s $750m (£460m) acquisition of AdMob in 2009. 

Meanwhile the California-based company’s in-house legal team consisted of general counsel Kent Walker and director of competition Nikhil Shanbhag. In London, Google’s senior competition counsel Oli Bethell and competition chief Julia Holtz were also involved. 

EU antitrust commissioner Joaquín Almunia said: “My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors. I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the Commission’s concerns. Without preventing Google from improving its own services, it provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative.

“This way, both Google and its rivals will be able and encouraged to innovate and improve their offerings. Turning this proposal into a legally binding obligation for Google would ensure that competitive conditions are both restored quickly and maintained over the next years.”